A proposed sales tax increase of 0.125% in Suffolk is aimed at expanding the Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

A revised plan to raise Suffolk County's sales tax by 0.125% to fund a sweeping expansion of sewers and high-tech septic systems is likely headed to the November ballot after county lawmakers and other stakeholders reached a deal on the plan last week.

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine and others on Monday announced the proposal, which would provide a stable revenue source to implement the county’s $4 billion, 50-year Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan intended to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution and protect the aquifer and other water sources.

“Let's make sure that we will always have clean water, not only under our feet to drink but clean water on our surfaces, our bays, our rivers, our creeks, our streams, our Sound,” Romaine said at a news conference. “And when we build these sewers, let’s be conscious of our future. Let’s not pump the effluent out to the ocean or the Sound.”

Legislation authorizing a previous plan backed by former Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone cleared the State Capitol last year with support from environmentalists, labor unions and builders. The initiative died when Republican county legislators balked at sending the proposal to voters, saying it allotted too much for individual septic systems and not enough for sewers.

Under the new plan, after administrative costs are subtracted, 50% of the sales tax revenue would be allocated to sewers and 50% to individual septic systems. The old plan would have sent 75% to individual septic systems.

New legislation in Albany has been introduced by Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) and State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood). Thiele said he did not anticipate issues in passing the bill in time for the Nov. 5 election.

“I'm optimistic that we will move forward from here on in,” he said.

Legislative Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said the legislature likely will pass a measure indicating local support on Tuesday, a step that was not taken last year.

A 0.125% sales tax increase would boost taxes on a $1,000 purchase by $1.25, compared with the current 8.625% tax rate.

The revised tax is expected to raise $26.5 million for sewers and $26.5 million for septic systems in its first year, he said. The revenue also allows the county to seek state and federal matching funds to finish construction on some $2.8 billion worth of sewer projects, McCaffrey said.

He anticipates his caucus in the Republican-majority legislature will support it.

“I see this as being something supported wholeheartedly,” he said. “At the end of the day, all we're doing is setting up … a referendum. The voters are ultimately going to decide if they want to accept that.”

Kevin McDonald, senior policy adviser for The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group involved in the negotiations, said the fund would improve water quality while allowing economic development in areas where sewers are built.

“This is probably one of the top three or four significant environmental achievements on Long Island,” he said. “It literally turns the tide on groundwater and surface water pollution.”

If approved, the legislation also would extend the existing quarter-percent sales tax drinking water protection program until 2060, which is now set to expire in 2030.

The legislation also modifies the funding allocation from the existing tax to fund septic systems as well as to stabilize sewer district taxes.

It explicitly forbids using the money for any purpose other than those outlined.

With Tracy Tullis

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